Road to Carthage 2 - Idleness
On this episode, we examine early Mormonism formed as a cult for temporal gratification.
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Why is it that somebody chooses to start a religion? Our world is often measured by the religion of any collective population. Somebody who comes from America is probably a Christian, from Saudi Arabia a Muslim, from India a Hindu, from Utah a Mormon. Nearly infinite historical factors play into why this is the case but the root of those factors so often is one guy, yes guy, who says I’m going to start a religion. Most world religions are so disconnected from their founders by time and lack of documentation so Mormonism presents a fascinating case study in this regard. Not only is the founder of Mormonism well-studied, but we have thousands of documents which shed light on his decision-making processes. We have newspapers and books from the time and place where this religious leader grew up and we can watch how societal elements factored into Jo’s burgeoning religion. We have affidavits and interviews with his neighbors, both friends and enemies, we have membership records of certain people joining the church at certain times who influenced the direction of Jo’s religion in one way or another. We have birth, marriage, and death dates of thousands of Jo’s early followers. We have a reminiscence from Jo’s own mother written soon after his death providing a unique and unvarnished account of the Smith family dynamics. We have thousands of letters written by the hands of these early saints, along with hundreds of journals, giving historians a window into the past unmatched by basically any other world religion. A lot of people wonder if Christianity would be a thing today if we had modern court documents and newspaper clippings about the cult of Jesus detailing just how weird and abusive it was, not to mention just how much Jesus would be castigated by most modern Christians for being pinko hippie commie scum; I think the existence of Mormonism is a perfect example to say Christianity definitely would exist because cults crop up every day and the leaders who start them are a dime a dozen.
Some are more successful than others. Some cult leaders never count more than a handful of devoted followers their entire life and ministry; others are elected president. There are nearly infinite variables which contribute to starting, growing, and maintaining a cult. The variables are extensive and often invisible, but the algorithms are largely the same. A smart young boy, and yes I say boy because that’s a core shared trait of this phenomenon. Female and non-binary cult leaders aren’t unheard of, but so far outshadowed by male cult leaders. In Jo’s time Ellen G. White, Joanna Southcott, the Universal Friend, they’re outliers which only highlight the trend in this male-dominated phenomenon. So, a smart young boy grows up in a house, usually with lots of siblings making the competition for mom’s and dad’s attention fierce. They never get enough resources to thrive and flourish from the family, forcing them to seek fulfillment from the outside world. Some combination of their biology and sociology makes these people particularly observant of the world around them and eventually they learn their most valuable skill set which serves them for the rest of their lives; manipulation.
The lessons are hard, but plentiful, and manipulation tactics become a primary tool used by these people, manipulation is a hammer and every problem can be a nail. They learn that if they say something one way, it will cause people to hate or fear them, but if they simply say it a different way then it will cause people to do whatever the person says. Once this tool is utilized and the wielder of said tool becomes a master at using it, the world becomes a sandbox in which these people can build whatever their hearts desire.
Manipulation is, at its core, one of the greatest demonstrations of human laziness. Using language, in the case of cult leaders often language which claims to come from god, to coerce people into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t is lazy. Now, don’t get me wrong, coercing people to do things that are good for others is what society, government, and social contracts in general are about; not all coercion or manipulation is bad. What I’m saying is one person manipulating others for their own self-serving interests is absolutely integral to starting a cult and it is indolence in its most basic form. A basic motivation of every cult leader is laziness. Populism requires an exalted weathervane who moves and turns with the tides and forces of society.
There’s a larger point nested in this conversation worth examining here. Society deems knowledge valuable. In today’s society, big data drives everything and it’s a multi-billion dollar per year industry. The Mormon church today is a big data company, funding millions of labor-hours into collecting genealogy, history, and population data. Knowledge is how society moves, whether progressive or regressive is often a subject of heated debate. We pay people to think, especially when they tell us stuff we like to hear. But, there’s a subtle and important distinction between a principled philosopher, a scientist, and a cult leader. One we support as a society because their knowledge is valuable, the other we support as a society because we’re manipulated into doing so; they’re a vestigial trait of humanity.
One is a person saying, this is what I think about the world and let’s have a dialogue. The other is a person saying this is how the world works because my god told me so; if you dare correct me then you’re my enemy.
You see the difference? Philosophy is a noble endeavor requiring a lifetime of devotion and study. A cult leader is the very antithesis of philosophy. They exist to tell us Truth with a capital “T”. A philosopher exists to ask questions and probe the phenomenon of human consciousness. Philosophy is an inherently tenacious practice and often leads to more questions than answers. Cult leaders exist by virtue of shutting down questions with profundities as non-answers; questioning which often leads to adverse consequences for the questioner; a delicate beliefs system balancing on the pillars of manipulation, groupthink, and untestable claims. Cults are inherently lazy. Cult leaders are the pinnacle of human mental lethargy; so what does that say about their followers? Why think about my existence and ethics when somebody will simply tell me all the answers? A lazy existence built on a system of lazy morals.
Remarkably, cults can define generations of populations. People can be industrious and hard-working within a system of lazy morals because their work contributes to building the kingdom of lies. Those same people, however, are lazy. They refuse to let their morals, ethics, or beliefs be questioned because they know for a fact that they already have all the right answers. Probing into their own sense of morals too often conflicts with those given them by their manipulative leaders so it’s far easier to just put those questions on the shelf and ignore them. I’ll get the answers to those tough questions after I die.
I myself have spent enough time with both cult followers and leaders to know this intellectual indolence first hand. It is a scourge, intellectual cancer, harnessed to shut down human inquisitiveness, ceding ground to that thought-damning phrase “because that’s the way it is”. These people are as friendly as can be until you introduce a question which shakes their convictions and reveals how inert their beliefs truly are; then their entire countenance shifts, they become defensive because that question wasn’t just targeting what they believe, but a core piece of their identity. Cult leaders thrive on identity. They weaponize identity, regressing their followers into tribalistic behavior and a false victimhood mentality, fabricating a persecution complex often out of thin air. They do this because the system of beliefs simply can’t stand up to inquiry or skepticism; evolving the beliefs would require effort and harmonizing but the cult leaders and followers have worked tirelessly to secure the belief system as lethargic and monolithic. It’s a bit of a paradox. Empires built on lies require work to grow and maintain while simultaneously capturing the worst of human tendencies of torpidity. I’m so certain I’m right that I will spend every waking moment working to build the kingdom of god. Anybody who questions this is an enemy attacking my identity and deserving of ignoring at best and violence at worst.
This intellectual laziness is, unfortunately, infectious and hereditary. A person who devotes their life to building up the cult may work 18 hour days 365 days of the year, they wouldn’t typically be classified as lazy, certainly not by their fellow cult members. But that devotion is deeply rooted in laziness; an unwillingness to confront unknown unknowns and form a personal moral compass. A philosopher may spend weeks at a time in their home reading and writing, never lifting a finger for any manual labor as their energy is far more valuable when expended on thought than physical action; the philosopher may be seen as lazy for spending so little time in “work” as we often call physically-demanding activities not for pleasure. But in reality, the scientist or philosopher is expending vast mental resources to attack different angles of what it is to be human or what we observe in our universe. These are not lazy people and far more often they leave behind a legacy worth veneration, admiration, and further study. The difference is in how these people view the world and what forms the basis of their morality. A philosopher will deal with the trolly problem in complex ways while the cult leader or follower will simply declare god’s will in the matter, an inherently untestable assertion.
This paradoxical nature of philosophical verses declaratory morality places the focus of our study at the crux of this paradox. If we view the life and legacy of Joseph Smith, laziness isn’t typically an attribute we would use. He built cities, wrote books, was editor of multiple newspapers, formed his own armies, ran hundreds of businesses throughout his life, seldom had any time to help raise his children because each day was occupied with building his own empire. These are not activities people would often ascribe to laziness but I do when I consider the underpinnings of these actions, the root cause, if you will. As much as Jo’s legacy is marked by these accomplishments, far more of his day-to-day actions were governed by delegating tasks to people who believed his outlandish and untestable claims. When the impetus behind what he delegated was ever questioned, the answer was always the same; because I said so in the name of the lord. Thus saith the lord, give me your farm. Thus saith the lord, build me a city. Thus saith the lord, kill that person because they’re a mobocrat. Thus saith the lord, and fill in the blank. This is intellectual lethargy. Why is something the way it is? Because god said so; I know because I talk to him all the time. I don’t believe that you talk to god. Burn the heretic! Why do we burn the heretic? Because god said so. Self-selection in the body of followers and their often violent opposition to anybody who questions, the very threat of intellectual work, drags entire populations toward collective stupidity. This laziness is infectious and hereditary; given long enough to mature and grow, entire populations of people are known by their intellectual laziness. That means the work of destroying sacred cows is a long and labor-intensive process; but, more dangerously, it’s often seen as attacking entire populations of people when the attacks aren’t aimed at the individuals so much as the ideology with which they identify. Attacking beliefs versus attacking believers is a subtle but important line cults thrive on blurring. Identity of members becomes so tightly intertwined with their beliefs that they’re unable to see the difference when presented with information that forces them out of their intellectual laziness. It’s not anti-Mormons, it’s anti-Mormonism that’s an arduous work worthy of investment and determination.
Before there was a gold bible written by ancient Native American Jews in Reformed Egyptian, before angels administered to Joseph Smith in his room late at night, before he had a scribe to write his claimed words of god, Jo dug for buried treasure. For a young man with a healing leg and an intemperate father as a role model, any way to get money for himself and the Smith family was explored, especially when it didn’t involve physical labor. Understandably, when the cake and beer shop, odd jobs for local farmers, and other menial jobs presented too much work, digging for buried treasure provided an easier way to make money.
Historian Ronald Walker, who by the way was a faithful Mormon, wrote a really good article about Joe’s magical treasure hunting, putting it in the context of a larger treasure hunting culture. It’s called “The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting.” Walker says,
From colonial times to at least the Age of Jackson, Americans dug for magical treasure. There were hundreds and probably thousands of these ‘money diggers,’ all seeking troves of fabled coins, mines, jewels, and other valued prizes. . . . Yet, for all this prodigious toil, their ‘finds’ were as rare as Merlin’s transmuted gold. . . . Relying on an immemorial but now forgotten world view, the money diggers placed faith in conjuring, elemental spirits, thrice-spoken dreams, seeric gifts, and enchanted treasure that could slip and rumble through the earth as easily as a fish moving through the deep. . . . But getting the treasure was always difficult and harrowing. If not recovered quickly, the trove sank into the earth’s depths until its next far-in-the-future ‘blooming.’ Further, the digger might have to outwit the man-like elemental spirits [who guarded the treasure].
The guardians were often devils,
who moved treasures about maliciously to prevent their discovery and created distracting spectres to impede digging. . . . If such things did not scare the seeker from his booty, they invariably caused him to break the taboo of silence, which ended any chance of success. Faced with these odds, the European treasure seeker tried to narrow the odds. To facilitate his search, he listened carefully to the treasure dreams of a pure or innocent youth, who it was believed had special powers to discern and recover the subterranean bounty. ‘Earth mirrors,’ seer stones, or divining rods crafted from hazel or mistletoe were also thought to be useful searching tools.
To prevent the treasure from slipping away through the earth,
Clever diggers might construct a trench outside and below the chest and approach it from underneath. Such a plan, however, ran the risk of injuring the digger if the peripatetic chest moved downward and fell upon him. Other hunters used magic circles to break the treasure’s charm. From antiquity, men had used circles in their devotions, and magicians particularly came to regard circles as ‘certain fortresses’ against demons. Money diggers agreed. They encircled their pits to ‘keep the devil out’ and to protect themselves from the treasure guardian’s machination. . . . Swords, sacrifices, and the Bible were also used. The common European pattern placed the adept at the center of the treasure circle, sword or wand in hand, where he observed planetary positions and propitiated the treasure demons with Old Testament sacrifices [especially of dogs or sheep].
Walker gives a bunch of examples of just how old these treasure stories are. We find them in ancient Egypt, in Greek epic poetry, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls of ancient Judea. According to Walker, “the ideas of hidden but guarded treasure, with their secondary motifs of ancient texts, animals, bozes, devils, caves, gold, incantations, mountains, and even the ratifying number three” were “a part of the central beliefs of Indo-European folk culture.” They thrived in Europe for millennia. “Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Walter Scott, Edvard Grieg, Henrik Ibsen, and especially the Germans Goethe and E. T. A. Hoffmann used treasure images in their works.” Understandably, these beliefs crossed the Atlantic to America, where they influenced Joe Smith. Episodes 1, 152 and 155.
These stories may have been old, but they were also always looked down upon by “polite society”. There is no evidence that they actually found any treasure, making it pretty obvious, at least to educated people, that this whole thing was at worst a con, and at best a totally unproductive hobby. Notably as well, although there isn’t any solid evidence of this occurring with the Smith treasure diggers, buried treasure was a great way to launder counterfeit money. An habitually destitute person walks into the local shop with a bag of gold coins, people are going to be skeptical as to where it came from. Found it while digging in the woods is a satisfying explanation for a while and it may even motivate more folks to join the group and fund treasure digs of their own. When those digs came up dry, the conjuration was performed incorrectly and the dupe walks away with their pockets lighter and the Smiths have a few meals paid for.
Hard-working people who take the slow, hard way to wealth have always looked at people who chase get-rich-quick schemes as lazy. This is the paradox discussed earlier. It can be hard work to be a sucker who believes in ghost stories and magic. Have you ever spent an entire night digging trenches nine feet deep in order to try to approach a slippery treasure chest from underneath after acquiring the ingredients and chanting the appropriate words for the spell to bind the chest to its location? While the act requires a lot of work, the pursuit itself is an effort to get rich quick and regarded as idleness by folks who actually work or study for their paycheck.
It’s within this context we should consider what Jo’s neighbors said about him; some of it is coming from a place of prejudice against treasure-digging and magical pursuits. But there’s another layer as well because it’s hard to tell whether Joe did much actual digging, the working part of the lazy endeavor. Lorenzo Saunders says in a November 1884 affidavit that when the Smiths dug for treasure, Jo himself didn’t actually dig. He was the orchestrator, the specialist performing sacrifices or doing magic to ward away evil spirits, and he left the hard work to the grunts. As the treasure-digging company’s seer, Jo would have spent more of his time locating the buried treasure than actually digging for it, often doing so from a remote location.
With that said, let’s dig into the accounts (you see what I did there… dig into the accounts… (One of these jokes has to land eventually) from some of Joe’s neighbors that described him as lazy. In spite of what apologists may claim, the accounts are plentiful and far from one-offs of neighbors mentioning it in passing. They come from all over the 19th-century, many contemporary, some later reminiscences, and some are even sworn and notarized affidavits, which historians absolutely love to have.
Let’s start with a New York neighbor of the Smiths, Parley Chase, who said in a sworn affidavit dated December 13, 1833 “that not one of the male members of the Smith family were entitled to any credit, whatsoever. They were lazy, intemperate and worthless men, very much addicted to lying. In this they frequently boasted of their skill. Digging for money was their principal employment.” A March 20, 1834 affidavit signed by 11 New York neighbors similarly said that the Smiths “were not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon; and that we are truly glad to dispense with their society.” Henry Harris’s affidavit, signed December 9, 1833, said the Smiths “were regarded by the community in which they lived, as a lying and indolent set of men and no confidence could be placed in them.” Indolent, by the way, is a great indie-prog album by the band slothful. Likewise, William Riley Hine said in an affidavit in the 1880s that he “heard a man say who was a neighbor to the Mormon Smith family, in Palmyra, N.Y., that they were thieves, indolent, the lowest and meanest family he ever saw or heard of.”
A mail carrier who regularly passed through Palmyra on his way back and forth from Canada to Kansas said in article published in the June 7, 1855 Texas Ranger, “[I] well remember of hearing frequently of the pranks of ‘Lazy Joe.’” Even Lorenzo Saunders, who liked Joe and defended him and said the Smiths were great sugar makers, also said in a November 12, 1884 interview that “Joseph Smith never did work. They claim there in that book that Jo. Smith was a great worker. he was a lazy dog, I tell you the truth.”
Not exactly a resounding endorsement for the Smith family’s work ethic. Most of those statements are pretty vague and general, they could mean a lot of different forms of laziness. There are, however, plenty of statements available which detail this indolence to a greater extent. Joshua Stafford was another neighbor of the Smiths in New York. He said in an affidavit signed November 15, 1833 that when the Smiths first arrived in the Palmyra, New York area, they were poor, but “were laboring people.” But, he adds:
A short time after this, they commenced digging for hidden treasures, and soon after they became indolent [or lazy], and told marvellous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other mysterious matters. Joseph once showed me a piece of wood which he said he took from a box of money, and the reason he gave for not obtaining the box, was, that it moved. At another time, he, (Joseph, Jr.) at a husking, called on me to become security for a horse, and said he would reward me handsomely, for he had found a box of watches, and they were as large as his fist, and he put one of them to his ear, and he could hear it "tick forty rods." Since he could not dispose of them profitably at Canandaigua or Palmyra, he wished to go east with them. He said if he did not return with the horse, I might take his life. I replied, that he knew I would not do that. Well, said he, I did not suppose you would, yet I would be willing that you should. He was nearly intoxicated at the time of the above conversation.
Stafford’s view of Joe as lazy apparently stemmed partly from the fact that Joe manipulated people into giving him things rather than earning them, and partly from the fact that Joe was a drunkard, which we’ll discuss in a coming episode of this series. That’s a pretty good manipulation tactic, right? You sound really sincere if you swear on your life and give someone permission to kill you if you don’t come through. Jo knew this was an impotent promise with no real consequences because Stafford wasn’t a murderer. We can see from these statements that Jo was developing a toolbox of manipulation tactics he’d utilize and expand throughout the remainder of his life, especially when it came to his ministry. His concealment of the claimed gold plates rings true to this, when he claimed to multiple people, including Martin Harris, that if they saw the plates uncovered the penalty would be death on the spot. Let’s face it, the greatest fear an imposter carries is being discovered. For that reason Jo had to invent greater and greater lies which would insulate those lower-level lies from being discovered. A habitual liar is the laziest person in the room.
These manipulations would manifest by similar tactics when it came to Jo developing higher ranks of church leadership where participants would gain access to greater mysteries if they would only give their property or wives to the prophet. If you can’t acquire these goods by your own merits or labor, just convince those who have them to give them up by manipulation and threats with life and death, or even eternal, consequences. If the person offering you salvation is also the person threatening you with punishment, it isn’t salvation it’s self-serving extortion. See Council of Fifty episodes 168-170, polygamy eps 161, 148-49, 116, Masonry and endowment 110-11, 108, 100, 57, Mormon theocracy ep 85-6, 72, 66, Evolving hierarchy ep 25, 23, 22.
Another Stafford neighbor of the Smiths, David Stafford, expressed similar concerns in an affidavit dated December 5, 1833:
I have been acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith Sen. for several years, and I know him to be a drunkard and a liar, and to be much in the habit of gambling. He and his boys were truly a lazy set of fellows, and more particularly Joseph, who, very aptly followed his father's example, and in some respects was worse. . . It is well known, that the general employment of the Smith family was money digging and fortune-telling. They kept around them constantly, a gang of worthless fellows who dug for money nights, and were idle in the day time. It was a mystery to their neighbors how they got their living. I will mention some circumstances and the public may judge for themselves. At different times I have seen them come from the woods early in the morning, bringing meat which looked like mutton. I went into the woods one morning very early, shooting patridges and found Joseph Smith Sen. in company with two other men, with hoes, shovels and meat that looked like mutton. On seeing me they run like wild men to get out of sight. -- Seeing the old man a few day afterwards, I asked him why he run so the other day in the woods, ah, said he, you know that circumstances alter cases; it will not do to be seen at all time[s].
The Smiths were drunkards, gamblers, and secretive with their magical practices, funding their lifestyles by unknown means. Gambling and speculation also fits with the general theme of get-rich-quick schemes and these tendencies would manifest in Jo’s ministry through constant land speculation in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo. The Smiths dug for buried treasure at night but were idle during the day, which may help account for why people viewed them as lazy. If you only work while other people are sleeping, they’ll never see you working, but that’s only if we qualify chasing buried treasure guarded by magical spirits as work. The get-rich-quick idea underpinning the buried treasure hunts was, at the end of the day, a lazy endeavor, but that’s indolence built on indolence as the very act of never questioning the mindset which produces the beliefs in magic and the occult also reveals a level of intellectual laziness discussed at the beginning of the episode.
Suffice it to say, the Smiths also didn’t seem to have any honest way of making money, and Stafford had reasons to suspect that Joseph Smith Sr. might have a bunch of stolen mutton stashed in the woods. From where the mutton came, we can only speculate but the multiple accounts of the Smiths sacrificing lambs to the treasure guardian spirits will suffice.
An anonymous letter in the October 26, 1883 Cincinnati Enquirer by someone who had interviewed some Harmony Pennsylvania residents says, “From all accounts he [Joseph Jr.] was a lazy, idle, shrewd, plausible, schemer and pretender.” The letter goes on to tell the story of Jo’s involvement in a treasure dig for William Hale and Oliver Harper in Harmony, Pennsylvania, where he met his to-be wife, Emma Hale. Apparently Joe, in his early twenties by now, pointed out a spot where the treasure was buried.
After digging the depth indicated by Smith no trace of the treasure was discovered, whereupon Mr. Harper became discouraged. Smith, who was as tricky as a snake, then pretended that there was an enchantment about the place that was removing the treasure further and further away, and said that Harper must get a perfectly white dog and sprinkle its blood over the ground, and that would dispel the obnoxious charm. Work was suspended and a search for a perfectly white dog was begun. None perfectly white could be found in the neighborhood. Smith said perhaps a perfectly white sheep would answer. One was procured, killed, and its blood sprinkled over the ground and the work of excavation was resumed. No trace of the treasure was found, though six holes, one of them fifty feet in diameter and twenty feet deep, were dug. After expending over $2,000 in this fruitless labor, Mr. Harper refused to put in any more money and the digging ceased. Smith said that God Almighty was angry at them for attempting to palm off a white sheep on Him for that of a white dog, and so had allowed the enchantment to remove the treasure which was there when they began operations.
The content of this letter, although late and anonymous, reveals many aspects of how treasure digging was developed and conducted as a con from the very beginning. If this were the only account historians have, it would be anti-Mormon and rightfully regarded as ridiculous but given the plethora of similar accounts ranging from contemporary to decades after, along with the remarkable consistency in the methods and practices used in the treasure digs, the accusations that these are anti-Mormon lies falls under the crushing weight of all these statements taken together. It also reveals the pattern of a habitual liar when faced with no resolution other than admitting it was all made up, turn to deflection and finally say daddy was too mad for us to be successful. There was no bottom to these lies. There was always a position for retreat when the treasure digs were unsuccessful, which was a pattern revealed in Jo’s ministry as well. If something went wrong or somebody called Jo out in a lie, an excuse, some form of retreat always existed. Any master manipulator always knows the locations of all exits in the room.
This treasure dig in Harmony, Pennsylvania is important, because while Joe was working for William Hale and Oliver Harper, he stayed at the home of Isaac Hale and got to know Isaac’s daughter, Emma Hale. Emma and Joe eventually eloped, against her parents’ wishes, and in August 1827, Joe’s Palmyra neighbor Peter Ingersoll accompanied Joe to the Hale home in Harmony, Pennsylvania to pick up Emma’s belongings and furniture to transport them back to Palmyra. When they arrived, according to Ingersoll’s affidavit,
His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: "You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money -- pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people." Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones. Mr. Hale told Joseph, if he would move to Pennsylvania and work for a living, he would assist him in getting into business. Joseph acceded to this proposition.
Isaac Hale and Emma’s brother Alva also reported this incident. According to Isaac’s affidavit dated March 20, 1834, “Smith stated to me, that he had given up what he called ‘glass-looking,’ and that he expected to work hard for a living, and was willing to do so.” And according to Alva, Jo admitted that “peeping [in seer stones for treasure] was all d---d nonsense. He (Smith) was deceived himself but did not intend to deceive others; --that he intended to quit the business, (of peeping) and labor for his livelihood.” When Jo and Emma were first married, he had a chance to alter his ways. He could have abandoned his indolent past, he could have reformed and made the right decision. Instead, however, laziness transcends the wishes of a disapproving father-in-law and public condemnation. If only Jo had kept this promise, American history might look very different. I also want to tease apart what Alvah claimed Jo said, that he was deceived but didn’t intend to deceive others. For a brief moment, the curtain is torn from the charlatan and the wizard pulling the levers is revealed. Evidence like this leads Dan Vogel, among other historians, to stick with the ‘pious fraud’ theory of Joseph Smith, that he was a fraud to begin with and used piety and religion as his cover to sell the fraud. I tend to agree. Being cognizant of one’s own deception rules out many cognitive functions which would tend to posit Jo was personally deceived or sincerely believed in what he said throughout his life. He absolutely knew it was all a fraud all along. Preserving that fraud found him in more intense and dire situations as his ministry evolved and all of that was predicated on his inherent dishonesty and laziness to deal with his affinity for dishonesty.
Jo’s involvement in magical money-digging got him in trouble with the law in 1826, the same year the American Temperance Society was formed in Boston, when he was working as a treasure seer for Josiah Stowell in South Bainbridge, New York. Josiah Stowell was a full believer in Joe’s magical powers, but Josiah’s nephew Peter G. Bridgeman could see Joseph Smith for the listless and lazy liar he was at heart. Bridgeman brought charges against Joseph Smith under a New York statute from 1811. Here’s the relevant portion of the statute under which Jo was charged:
all persons who not having wherewith to maintain themselves, live idle without employment, and also all persons who go about from door to door, or place themselves in the streets, highways or passages, to beg in the cities or towns where they respectively dwell, and all jugglers, and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found; … shall be deemed and adjudged disorderly persons.
By virtue of this 1811 law existing, people like Joseph Smith were common and seen as a blight on enlightened society. At its core, this was a vagrancy law that was loaded with other definitions to dragnet a lot of unpleasant people together under the same criminal statute. The term “crafty science” refers explicitly to the practices of magic and occult employed by the Smiths for locating and extracting the non-existent treasure Jo would see underground with his peeping stone. It was an art practiced by the lowest in society, aimed at the credulous middle-class to extract their money through minimal effort. It’s no different from fortune tellers and astrologers in LA making celebrities their chief clientele today, but at the time there were laws against it which were enforced. But if we just let the market regulate itself all this pseudo science will die off! Unfortunately people are too stupid to self-regulate without draining their pockets with buffalo excrement at best or killing themselves at worst. Jo was charged with a misdemeanor as a “disorderly person” because he lived idle with no employment except for pretending to discover where lost goods were found and taking money for his services which were clearly utilized as a con. This was crafty science and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why that phrase is no longer in our modern lexicon or stare decisis.
Bossman Josiah Stowell testified at the trial in Joe’s defense. Stowell confirmed that he had hired Joe to search for several treasures, but he denied that Joe was only pretending. Stowell said “that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did possess the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.”
Stowell went on to give a couple examples of how he knew Joe really had magical powers. On one occasion, the “prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attleton for a mine, did not exactly find it, but got a p[iece] of ore which resembled gold, he thinks.” Joe promised gold, and although they didn’t find any gold, they did find iron pyrite, also known as fool’s gold. Easy mistake to make, but it proved that Jo really could see things in his stone to the credulous Josiah Stowell.
On another occasion, the “prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; that he and prisoner had been in search of it; that prisoner had said it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail feather; that said Stowel and prisoner thereupon commenced digging, found a tail feather, but money was gone; that he supposed the money moved down.” Joe planted a feather, and that was enough to prove to Bossman Josiah Stowell beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joe had magic powers. These schemes were clearly premeditated to acquire money through the smallest amount of work possible. That leaves a question standing as the elephant in the room; these treasure digging practices all occurred during the period Jo claimed he was communing with angels after his theophany, soon before he would author the Book of Mormon. When exactly during the 1820s did Jo change his ways? When did his treasure digging change from a way to make an easy dollar to being divinely sanctioned scripture writing and religion building? When did Jo stop being a loafing deceiver and become a prophet of god? Maybe… and I know this is pretty far out there, but maybe it never stopped.
The witnesses for the prosecution, Arad Stowell, a Mr. McMaster, and Jonathan Thompson, gave a few more examples. Arad Stowell and McMaster testified that to try to prove his abilities to them, Joe had “laid a book upon a white cloth, and proposed looking through another stone which was white and transparent, hold the stone to the candle, turn his head to book, and read. The deception appeared so palpable that witness went off disgusted.” It’s a little unclear here whether Joe had memorized passages from the book in advance, or whether he was tilting his head to peek at the pages while he read, but anyway, these two guys weren’t fooled. Jo’s ability to locate and read a mark, a prospective person to be conned, became one of his greatest skills which would serve him the rest of his life. It’s likely his deceptions aimed at Josiah Stowell were no more believable than that book-reading example, but Bossman Jo’s credulity made him an easy mark for Jo. The first skill a successful con man learns is identifying easy marks. How far he goes with that mark or how much a conman takes that mark for a ride is far more up to the mark than the conman himself.
Jonathan Thompson tells about a different incident, when the
prisoner was requested to look for chest of money; did look, and pretended to know there it was; and that prisoner, Thompson, and Yeomans went in search of it; that Smith arrived at spot first; was at night; that Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, told how the chest was situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried, [which] came all fresh to his mind. That the last time he looked he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk, that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed.
When it comes to these magic practices used as cons, there always needs to be an out. Something in the spell was said wrong, the participants were in the wrong mindset, the wrong planets are governing the season, the dog was spotted instead of pure white, one of the diggers has indigestion, whatever the excuse the person orchestrating the con has to be able to blame something when it doesn’t work as proposed. For Jo and the treasure diggers, the chest kept sinking. Thompson continues:
Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner's professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but on account of an enchantment the trunk kept settling away from under them when digging, that notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.
The pursuit of worldly treasures by utilizing the power of magic like this never really pans out. The pursuit of worldly treasures by utilizing the power of god is the next logical step because it rarely fails. Oddly enough, Thompson was called a witness for the prosecution, but he actually ended up saying he believed Joe could see things in his stone, so I guess his testimony sort of also supported the defense? There is some consistency to the various witness statements, that they believed Jo could actually see what he claimed, but that they were merely unsuccessful in the digs. These testimonies foreshadowed what would be a common theme in Jo’s ministry; people believed what he said even when evidence right in front of their faces would indicate the contrary. Jo refused to make his money from honest hard work so his charisma was his tool of choice to get people to give him their money.
The infamous 1826 trial record ends by saying, “And therefore the Court find the Defendant guilty.” In some ways this looks like legal proof that Jo was a disorderly idle person with no employment except for pretending to look for lost objects and buried treasure. The truth is a little more complicated and allows apologists to carve out interpretations of the evidence which don’t cast Joseph Smith into such a negative light. This was just a pre-trial hearing, so the guilty verdict was only an indictment, not a conviction. William D. Purple, Abraham W. Benton, and Joel K. Noble all said that Jo was either released or allowed to escape on “leg bail” without a trial, either because he was a minor or because the court didn’t want to impugn Josiah Stowell’s reputation with an embarrassing trial. People will say he was never convicted in that trial as exonerating evidence that Jo was actually an honest young man, but that summary of the evidence is easily belied by reading the witness’s statements which describe his conduct as run-of-the-mill con artistry and “crafty sciences”.
Four years later, in 1830, Joe was re-arrested to finally be put to trial on this charge of disorderly person, but this time he was acquitted because of the statute of limitations-- too long a time had passed since the crime. The 1830 trial produced some more amusing testimony, however.
At this trial, Josiah Stowell testified about a horse that Jo had borrowed and never returned. Stowell remained certain that Jo would eventually pay the debt. “I hold his note for the price of the horse, which I consider as good as the pay-- for I am well acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr., and know him to be an honest man; and if he wishes I am ready to let him have another horse on the same terms.” Jo combined tactics of mind control had a complete hold on Bossman Josiah Stowell. He was clearly working on honing his skills of cult mind control before the Gold Bible story was widely circulated as evidenced by the 1826 trial. The development of his skills is revealed in the differences between what Stowell said in the 1826 trial verses the 1830 trial. Stowell and other wealthy men became the marks of Joseph Smith and he bled them dry while utilizing cult mind control tactics to the point they implicitly trusted him with anything and everything he needed, all while the majority of other people connected with the Smith family regarded them as lazy and intemperate hucksters.
Whether Josiah Stowell, Martin Harris (NSSM), Newel K. Whitney, John Johnson, or any other well-off mark targeted by Jo, the sunk-cost fallacy will cause otherwise reasonable people to do the dumbest things and sacrifice their livelihood. Abram W. Benton also recorded this fantastic exchange between Stowell and the prosecution’s lawyer:
Q: “Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain place which he mentioned?”
A: “Yes.” …
Q: “Did you dig?”
Q: “Did you find any money?”
Q: “Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you?”
A: “No! The money was there, but we did not get quite to it!”
Q: “How do you know it was there?”
A: “Smith said it was!”
What could I possibly say about this interaction that it doesn’t say for itself? That exchange needs no commentary. Jo was many things, but a master-manipulator of credulous minds may truly be his crowning character trait. But for our purposes, the money quote from the 1830 trial comes from the testimony of Addison Austin. According to Austin, during the time period when Joe was leading treasure hunts for Stowell, Austin got Joe alone “and asked him to tell honestly whether he could see this money or not.” Austin said that “Smith hesitated for some time, but finally replied, ‘to be candid, between you and me, I cannot, any more than you or any body else; but any way to get a living.’” Any way to get a living which doesn’t involve swinging an axe, tilling a field, keeping a ledger book, hammering metal, milking a cow, studying books, or building a cabinet anyway. Jo’s lethargy for real work is a notable pattern emerging from the earliest accounts about his life including these court records. One other detail worth noting in this hearing, Bossman Josiah Stowell’s daughters were called to testify against Joseph Smith about him being… let’s just say “improper” towards them. But, that’s a story for a different time. Eps 11, 12, and 21.
All of this was happening during the gestation period of the Book of Mormon, Jo’s greatest undertaking ruled by indolence. After Joseph Smith claimed he’d gotten the golden plates from Moroni in 1827, he started writing the Book of Mormon with Martin Harris in the spring. By the way, Marty was a farmer, and spring is a really important season for farmers. If you don’t get your crops in the ground in the spring, the entire season is lost. Marty, instead, spent all spring as a scribe for Jo because, let’s face it, writing words is hard work and why write them when you can just speak them to somebody else who’ll write them for you? Apropos of nothing, thanks again Chris Smith for helping me write this series.
The consequences of this are borne out in Lucy Mack Smith's personal memoir on page 132, where she claimed that two-thirds of Marty's crop was lost. Plus, Joe and Emma were living off Marty's dime during the entire time Marty worked as his scribe, which adds up after a while, especially after just losing a season. This began the long and painful process of Joseph Smith bleeding Martin Harris completely dry over years.
Tradition says they translated about 116 pages-- although it may have actually been more than that-- and then Martin Harris asked to borrow the manuscript to take it home to show his skeptical wife. Somehow the manuscript disappeared from Martin’s desk drawer. The most popular theory is that his wife, Lucy, burned it, although that’s hotly disputed among historians and only emerges as the story much later than the actual event. It may have also been a test by Marty as he’d tested Jo’s abilities multiple times. Eps 3 and 4. Joe was devastated, and he took a long break from translation. When he started translating again, he picked up from where he had left off rather than starting over from the beginning. Only when he got to the end of the book did he go back and replace the lost pages, mostly as an autobiography.
The lost manuscript pages posed a problem, because Joe couldn’t perfectly reproduce what he’d originally written, and for all he knew, the manuscript was still out there. If he just tried to rewrite the same thing, then somebody could produce the original manuscript and point out discrepancies between the replacement pages and the original. At least, that was his way of dealing with this trouble. Fortunately for Joe, God had a plan to solve this problem. According to Jo, he had previously translated from the “large plates of Lehi,” but there was another set of plates called the “small plates of Nephi” which told the same story in abbreviated form from the perspective of Nephi instead of his dad, Lehi. So he could just translate that. This is the part in the South Park episode on Joseph Smith where Stan bursts out, “Wait: Mormons actually know this story, and they still believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?” On a personal note, that was my first shelf-item at the impressionable age of 14. Historians Christopher Smith and Dan Vogel did a 2-part deconstruction of everything South Park got right and wrong, you can find it on YouTube.
The replacement pages for the lost 116 pages serve as an interesting case-study for Jo’s authorship methodology. The replacement was an abridged or shorter version of events already described in the lost pages, but he uses a ton of “filler” material and a considerable amount is autobiographical with names of characters only slightly changed. Isaac Hale became Ishmael and Nephi sounds like his father’s name Lehi like Jo sr. and Jo jr., Nephi has 2 older brothers with a younger brother named Samuel just like Jo. It’s remarkable. But it isn’t just the autobiographical tendencies; in the replacement pages, he copies chapter after chapter of Isaiah verbatim from the King James Version of the Bible. And then at some point he runs out of steam and breezes over hundreds of years of Nephite history in the short books of Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon, each of which is only one chapter long. These are the minor prophets of the BoM and each chapter essentially describes the plates being transferred from one prophet-historian to the next with very little other material. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, two of the great critics of the LDS Church, call this the “black hole” in the Book of Mormon. And basically this “black hole” exists because Martin lost the original manuscript and Jo’s replacement was under a time crunch and hopelessly simplistic and lazy. Ep 17.
After the publication of the Book of Mormon, in April 1830 Joe founded the Church of Christ. That’s the same year the fountain pen was patented. Throughout this whole period, Jo was dictating (dictating, not writing for himself) revelations from God that eventually were compiled to be the Book of Commandments, later republished as the Doctrine and Covenants with some extra theological material known as the lectures on faith. Each of these revelations are self-serving; some more than others. As David Michael and I went through the revelations on My Book of Mormon podcast before Marie took over for David, we figured out pretty quickly that Jo essentially established revelations as a currency. When he wanted somebody to do something for him or the church, they’d get a revelation, some of which were identical copy-paste revelations given to different people. One of those revelations that I find extremely revealing of Joe’s mentality as he established this new religion of his is D&C 24, dated July 1830, so three to four months after Joe founded the church. The revelation is addressed directly to Joe, and it says,
For thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion. . . . [But] in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling. Attend to thy calling and thou shalt have wherewith to magnify thine office, and to expound all scriptures.
God told Joe temporal work is not your strong suit, so instead you should devote yourself entirely to the hard spiritual work of explaining scripture. From watching circuit rider preachers collecting money during revivals to authoring his own revelation that his time should be devoted to the church and only the church, the cycle continues through another conman.
It’s not hard to see what he’s doing here. When you take on a project like starting a church, or, for example, creating, editing and producing a podcast on the history of said church, it's a lot easier to focus on that one thing when you don't have a day-job. Joe was able to swear off all physical labor for money, and tell everybody that his church was to be his one and only focus. He, however, did so by claimed divine command instead of starting a gofundme for a history book he has yet to deliver on… Uhhh… that was a little too real. Chris, did you write that? MOVING ON!
Another passage within that same section of the D&C hearkens to Jo’s previous troubles with the law while simultaneously reinforcing his reliance on the tithes of the church for support.
And whosoever shall go to law with thee shall be cursed by the law.
And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip.
Hey Jo, can you help me lift this thing? Come on, Ollie, you know what the big man upstairs thinks about me lifting a thing. By the way, we need more tithing cuz Joey needs a new wardrobe! Mormons often consider the phrase “Oh my god!” is taking the lord’s name in vain, but when a guy tells his hundreds of followers that god said he doesn’t have to work for money, I can’t think of a greater example of taking the Lord’s name in vain. It’s a stark contrast from the claims church leaders make today that the church is run by a lay clergy while they take living stipends Jo would have salivated over and sit on a veritable dragon’s hoard of wealth of over $100 billion. It’s vanity, hypocrisy, and it’s all rooted in an indescribable loathing of manual labor and honest work.
Once Jo arrived in Kirtland after commanding his church to relocate to Ohio and Missouri, this trend of god giving Jo the cakewalk through life accelerated. In June 1831, that’s the same year Clement Studebaker (Studebaker cars) was born. I WANT AN AVANTI SO BAD. I WAAAANT ONE!!! The 63 R3 model, only 1,200 made with the supercharged 304 4-speed. It could do 180 mph in the early 60s, are you frickin kidding me?! If you have one, call me. I digress. In June 1831, Joseph Smith was in Kirtland, but he had been prophesying that the “New Jerusalem” or “Zion” would be located in Missouri. This was basically the Mormon promised land, but Joe hadn’t actually been there yet; he’d only described it in letters. Unfortunately, his powers of remote viewing with a seer stone didn’t cut it so in June 1831 he decided it was time that he went and saw it for himself to properly declare it Zion. He received a revelation that commanded twenty-eight elders to travel to Missouri. One of those elders was Ezra Booth. This experience ended up being so disillusioning for Booth that he left the Church and wrote the first insider’s expose of the church. See the exclusive feed on patreon.com/nakedmormonism where we read through the Ezra Booth letters in Mormonism Unvailed for our NaMo book club.
According to Booth, Joe’s revelation told the elders to go to Missouri on foot. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, and Edward Partridge, however, were told to go by carriage and steamboat, funded largely by NSSMarty. The leaders traveled in comfort, while the laymen begged their way to Missouri like hobos. Hey, at least that survived to the modern church.
When Joe got to the holy land, he was extremely disappointed. He found about 20 log cabins, mostly occupied by drunks. Only a handful of people had converted to Mormonism. According to Booth, “We expected to find a large Church, which Smith said, was revealed to him in a vision, Oliver had raised up there. This large Church was found to consist of three or four females.” Priorities, right Ezra?
To Ezra Booth’s great disappointment, the whole trip ended up being pointless. Joe laid the foundation of the temple, which was fine, but it wasn’t worth walking all the way to Missouri to see. And then Joe was done with this backwater, and he returned to Kirtland, Ohio. According to Booth, “Before they went to Missouri, [Joseph Smith’s] language was, ‘we shall winter in Ohio but one winter more.’” But once they got to Missouri, Joseph changed his tune and declared that “’it will be many years before we come here," for there is a great work to be done first. Eps 25, 26.
Booth’s explanation of why Joe returned to Kirtland and left building up Zion to other people was that “it is much easier, and better suited to their dispositions, to write commandments [in Kirtland], than to gain a livelihood by the sweat of their brow [in Missouri]; and indeed, Smith has commanded himself not to labor, and by his mandate, has enjoined it upon the Church to support him. [Bishop Edward Partridge], when we were in Missouri, intimated, that [Smith] and others were too much inclined to [laziness]. [Smith] replied, ‘I am commanded not to labor.’” A few quotes from Jo throughout this series really encapsulate his entire life in so few words like this one. Last week it was the quote about building the Nauvoo House hotel so that the rich people will pour their gold and silver into the community until the Mormons are sick of receiving them. This quote, however, summarizes his work ethic, his manipulation tactics, his lethargy towards honest labor, and his taking god’s name in vain for little crap like this throughout his entire ministry. It’s a remarkable quote and it’s amazing to make a tongue-in-cheek example about god commanding Jo not to do a thing and then to have a contemporary who left the church say that exact thing happened. It shows us today that Jo not only used God’s name to tell him not to work, but would also quote that revelation to people when he was in a situation that required him to actually work. His job was talking to god and anybody who didn’t like it wasn’t faithful to the work and therefore didn’t believe Jo actually spoke for god. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because anybody regarding these statements with skepticism, like Ezra Booth, simply leave and the only people left are the sycophants who’d never question the prophet of god or anything the prophet claimed god said.
While Joe lived at Kirtland, the Church in Missouri had a series of troubles with their non-Mormon Missourian neighbors. We’ll discuss this in coming episodes at length but for now we need to understand that one of the major sources of tension was the fact that the Missourians were mostly from the South, whereas the Mormons were mostly from the North, so they had different attitudes toward the enslavement of black people. The Book of Mormon is anti-slavery. The Nephites outlawed slavery, whereas the “ferocious and wicked” Lamanites practiced slavery. In 1832 Joe received his famous civil war revelation, which predicted that a civil war would begin in South Carolina, and slaves would rise against their masters. This revelation was not disclosed to the public, because it was too explosive and the reaction from non-Mormons would not have been good. It does, however, illustrate to us that Jo kept his eye on current events for anything he could wrap into his theology or could demonstrate his feigned powers of prophecy.
In 1833, W. W. Phelps published a newspaper article in which he advised against free people of color emigrating to Missouri as members of the Church, because they’d be considered property there. Unfortunately the Missourians misinterpreted the article as an invitation to free people of color to emigrate, and the reaction was violent. The racist citizens of Jackson County, Missouri expelled the Mormons from the county in 1833.
Unfortunately, this bad reaction from the Missourians sent Joe into PR damage control mode, and he showed zero moral backbone by changing his stance on slavery. The Church issued an official declaration in August 1835 that said the North had no “right to interfere with bond-servants, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters” nor cause “them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life.” And in April 1836, just a year later, coincidentally the same year Samuel Colt patented the revolving cylinder pistol, Joe published an anti-abolitionist sermon that warned that abolitionism might lead to “racial miscegenation and possible race war.” He also said it was the “decree of Jehovah” that blacks be slaves. GBP Eps 48, 49. Put a pin in Jo’s stance on slavery because we’ll discuss it in a minute.
Richard Bushman summarized Jo’s general work ethic quite well in his biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman is a believing Mormon, but to his credit he actually admits to Joseph Smith’s flaws and remains in good-standing with the church after publishing about controversial aspects of Jo’s life in this book. Speaking about the Kirtland years, he says, “How the Smiths paid the bills in these years is a mystery. Joseph’s journal shows no evidence of working for money. In 1834, he had been granted the stewardship of a farm near the temple site, but he recorded no income or benefit. He never mentioned doing farm work or supervising anyone’s labors. Later he opened a store in Kirtland, but the store was not profitable. Joseph’s followers helped by bringing food—half a fattened hog from John Tanner, a quarter beef from Shadrach Roundy. Others gave Joseph money or forgave borrowed sums.”
Jo’s financial profile in Kirtland is troubled at best. I know we talk about his finances a lot on the show but it’s kind of a recurring theme when so many of his actions were motivated by money. He ran his church on credit and did so while constructing the largest building in the city, the Kirtland Temple. By the time it completed construction, Jo had no way to pay off the $40-60k in debt he incurred. He’d absorbed by divine fiat all the businesses of wealthy members by declaring the church a socialist system run through Bishops’ storehouses and land speculation was a common pastime. Jo could issue a revelation commanding the Mormons to forgive him of his debts, but that solution didn’t exactly hold water like a tight dish for people who didn’t believe he was a prophet, which were the majority of people to which the dude owed money.
When you run out of money and creditors are beating down your door, what do you do? Start your own bank and print your own money. Who needs to labor extensively and pay down debts through hard labor and ethical business practices when you can simply make money and sell stocks in the Kirtland Safety Society anti-bank-ing company? This worked for a while, but the inert bank notes eventually caught up and lawsuits were filed, judgments declared church property into the hands of creditors, and Jo and the leadership fled to the Missouri church under the cover of night. Jo running from his problems was a common tactic when life became too hard to work through them.
When Jo got to Missouri, he wasn’t there for very long, and things were pretty intense for most of the time he was there.
Here’s a good time to talk about one of the primary tensions between the Mormons and the Missourians which had been brewing for over half a decade. Let’s pull that pin out of Jo’s stance on slavery now. The Mormons came from largely Northern states, which meant most of them were either abolitionist or generally not pro-slavery. Missouri has always been a controversial state when it comes to race relations. To this day, it’s one of the most racially-charged states in America owing to it being the northernmost slave state above the Mason-Dixon line which delineated between slave states of the south and non-slave states of the north. The most infamous supreme court ruling in American history, the Dred Scott decision, centered around whether or not the Scotts were considered citizens, having lived in northern states where slavery was illegal and then moved to Missouri. This 1857 case is a blight on American jurisprudence and in many ways served as one of the primary catalysts that resulted in the civil war half a decade later. This all occurred while Mormon Utah was a slave-holding theocracy, but I digress. Needless to say, tensions about the slave issue plagued Mormon and Missourian relations and when the Mormons published from their Jackson County-based The Evening and the Morning Star that they’d teach freed slaves how to read by offering them fellowship and Book of Mormon study classes, the slave holders in Missouri lost their minds. This was in addition to a number of controversial revelations given by Jo which caused these tensions to increase. These revelations claimed the gentile’s property, meaning that of the non-Mormons in Missouri, was to be consecrated to the bishop’s storehouse, which is a nice way to package the concept of theft. Also, Jackson County was to be the central location of the Mormon millennium, meaning the number of Mormons living there would only increase. More Mormons resulted in them having greater political power, which, once again, could threaten the way of life of the slave-holders. Missourians didn’t want their government filled with a bunch of abolitionist yankees who were trying to teach freed slaves how to read, possibly leading to an uprising.
All of that is to say that slavery was an issue Jo repeatedly changed his stance on throughout his ministry. It can be easily demonstrated that his statements about states’ rights vs. slavery were influenced by current events and what happened to the Mormons in Missouri. First of these stances was indifference. Passages from Alma 27 and Mosiah 2 are inherently anti-slavery, however, as the Mormons settled in greater numbers in Missouri, Jo remained silent on these passages and the entire subject of slavery. It wasn’t until W. W. Phelps published a pamphlet titled “Free people of color” in Missouri that the leadership made a statement about slavery. It extensivley quoted Missouri law in stating “no free negro or mulatto… shall come into or settle in this state under any pretext whatever…” and further made the official stance of the church that “Slaves are real estate in this and other states, and wisdom would dictate great care among the branches of the Church of Christ on this subject. So long as we have no special rule in the Church, as to people of color, let prudence guide… Shun every appearance of evil.” Phelps said we’re pro state’s rights until we have a special rule in the church, leaving the door open for Jo to issue a revelation claiming slavery is evil, but Jo didn’t. He never claimed god said anything negative about slavery during his actual ministry. In fact, he took the opposite stance in his 1836 letter we put the pin in before that we’ll read from in a minute. His anti-slavery stance was purely political and never carried the weight of “thus saith the Lord” like most of his revelations.
The appearance of this 1833 article from Double-dub Phelps caused fire and fury as it was coupled with rumors of the revelation which later became D&C 87, which stated “war will be poured out upon all nations beginning at [South Carolina]... slaves shall rise up against their masters… the remnants [Native Americans]... will marshal themselves, and… shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.” Missourians construed the Free People of Color statement with the rumors of this revelation as exactly what they needed to consider the Mormons their enemies. Phelps published a clarifying statement in the next issue of the Star; an attempt to allay the excitement.
Having learned with extreme regret, that an article entitled, "Free People of Color," in the last number of the Star, has been misunderstood, we feel in duty bound to stare, in this Extra, that our intention was not only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent them from being admitted as members of the Church...We often lament the situation of our sister states in the south, and we fear, lest, as has been the case, the blacks should rise and spill innocent blood, for they are ignorant, and a little may lead them to disturb the peace of society. To be short, we are opposed to having free people of color admitted into the state; and we say, that none will be admitted into the Church;
This was the racism of the day. The leadership of the church, especially Joseph Smith, had an opportunity to stick to their Book of Mormon and oppose slavery and invite African-Americans to join their church; they could have been on the right side of history and taken the moral stance on the hottest moral and political issue of the day. Instead, they prohibited blacks from joining the church to appease slave-holders. Even with this tacit approval of slavery and prohibition of freed slaves from joining the church, the Missourian public sentiment against the church had been adjudicated in the court of public opinion and the Mormons had to go.
One may be tempted to say that these were the public statements of W.W. Phelps as editor of the church’s periodical and therefore don’t reflect Jo’s personal beliefs on the question of slavery and racism. Well, let’s talk about Jo’s 1836 letter. An abolitionist visited Kirtland in 1836 and Jo’s lethargy toward the slave question would no longer suffice. He sent a letter to the editor of the Kirtland-based Messenger and Advocate, who was Oliver Cowdery at the time. Jo’s letter details that the abolitionist preaching in Kirtland was mostly ignored and “attended to their own avocations and left the gentleman to hold forth his own arguments to nearly naked walls.” Mormons ignoring the pressing social issues of their day, or being on the wrong side of them, is a long tradition that apparently started back in Kirtland. Jo goes on to lament how much members bichor over the question of slavery and attempt to withdraw fellowship from those who join the church but hold slaves. He’s saddened that people will join the cry of abolition and “set loose, upon the world a community of people [slaves] who might peradventure, overrun our country and violate the most sacred principles of human society,”. You can’t trust slaves to free themselves or they might overrun the entire nation and violate society as we know it. Wouldn’t that just be a shame for white society to endure in the 1830s.
Jo deals the killing blow with this:
It may, no doubt, with propriety be said, that many who hold slaves live without the fear of God before their eyes, and, the same may be said of many in the free states. Then who is to be the judge in this matter?... [speaking of abolitionists] why not cease their clamor, and no further urge the slave to acts of murder, and the master to vigorous discipline, rendering both miserable… I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall.”
Jo was pro states’ rights during the burgeoning abolitionist movement. This is being pro-fascism or pro-eugenics in the 1930s, like President Heber J. Grant giving a talk in Frankfurt with the Nazi Flag behind him in 1937. This is a clear example of Jo simply being on the wrong side of history and human morality; releasing this statement was an act of pacification to not infuriate the Missourians against the growing number of Mormons in the state. This is so infuriating to yours truly. Joseph Smith was supposed to be the paragon of morality. He had god on speed dial and claimed he could see the future but when it came to one of the most basic questions of human morality, nay human decency, he abdicated his place as the moral high point of humanity and sided with the people who own other people as property. What the hell good is a prophet of god if he tells us to violate the very essence of what makes us human, autonomy and freedom of choice? On the slave question, Jo was an anchor holding the boat of human morality under water during a hurricane at high tide.
But, Jo didn’t stop there; if he did it would be absolutely barbaric and openly opportunist, but he had plenty more to say. He went on to recite the same Bible passages used by pro-slavery advocates quoting Genesis and Paul. He then trots out the white-supremacy of the curse of Cain so eloquently captured in his own books of Mormon, Moses, and soon to be written Abraham.
What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful (?!) occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the decrees and purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before him; and those who are determined to pursue a course which shows an opposition… against the designs of the Lord will learn,... that God can do his own work without the aid of those who are not dictated by his counsel.
Those who interfere with slavery are going against God’s will and are under condemnation before him. The Curse of Cain will not be lifted until some calamitous event that removes the curse of dark skin equal with the same power which gave them dark skin to begin with. Joseph Smith was a white supremacist. I recently gave a presentation to the U.K. group Skeptics in the Pub about Mormonism and white supremacy and cited all Jo’s relevant revelations on the subject. Joseph Smith wasn’t just a racist, he was a white supremacist. May that statement never fall on deaf ears. Any claim to the contrary is factually wrong. Joseph Smith saw white skin as pure and delightsome while dark skin was the curse of Cain. He spoke officially as the prophet of God, quoted extensively from the Bible to justify slavery, and said anybody opposing slavery is under condemnation from God. Joseph Smith wasn’t just a racist, he was a white supremacist. He wasn’t even a progressive of his day on the issue of slavery, he was a weathervane going with the political wind of the day. This guy speaks for god and his god is incontrovertably a white supremacist. If you believe Jo was a prophet, why is the god he supposedly received direction from worthy of worship? The curse Jo claimed has never been lifted in Mormon theology. Black men can have the priesthood as of 1978 but the curse is still very much alive and well in white supremacist Mormon scripture.
Now, people will quote Jo’s presidential pamphlet which advocated for the release of slaves and a government bailout for slave holders and say that is evidence of Jo being on the right side of the issue. They’re disgustingly wrong. As a prophet of God he used the Bible to claim slavery was the way god created the world, as a POTUS candidate he didn’t use the Bible to justify abolition, in spite of the many Christian abolitionists who did as his contemporaries. He was pro abolition as a POTUS candidate because his political enemies were Southern Democrats after the Missouri-Mormon War. He had many chances, over a decade of chances, to issue a new revelation that slavery was evil. He could have taken the actual moral stance on the greatest social justice issue of his day, but he didn’t. He only switched to abolitionism because it was politically advantageous, which is the absolute laziest and morally bankrupt system by which to determine one’s morals. If your morals are determined based on what will get you elected, you’re a spineless coward and lazy. Jo was the worst kind of white supremacist, the lazy religious kind, which, if I’m being honest, is the majority of white supremacists. Ep 165.
I want to dwell on this point for a minute longer at risk of belaboring the point, but it’s so incredibly crucial and possibly the most important takeaway from today’s episode. The Mormons were largely northerners, who were either opposed to or indifferent towards slavery. Jo’s 1836 letter to the editor illustrates an aspect of Jo’s inert mentality toward social ills of his day. In slave-holding America, not having an opinion on the issue of slavery was the same as having an opinion on it. Jo took the state’s rights side of the issue. He was not only on the wrong side of history by taking this pro-slavery stance, he was on the wrong side of humanity. What was it that garnered this letter being written in the first place? Political pressure from pro-slavery Missouri. Jo didn’t want to inflame tensions with slaveholders any more than the Mormons had in the previous 5 years so he published this rant about how awesome and divinely-ordained slavery is because he was afraid of what the Missourians might do to the Mormons. This isn’t just lazy, it’s deplorable. Believers will often claim that Jo was an abolitionist citing his 1844 Presidential Campaign Pamphlet as evidence but that only underscores the point that he flip-flopped on the question of slavery only when it was politically advantageous. Joseph Smith used the same biblical passages slaveowners used to justify owning those slaves to say that slavery was commanded by god. He adopted the political stance of the Confederacy nearly 20 years before it existed. If there was a single issue where Jo could prophecy of the future and take the right side of a moral issue, slavery was that issue. To be a state’s rights person in the 1830s was the same side as separate but equal prior to the end of segregation. He was on the wrong side while simultaneously claiming to be the mouthpiece of god. This example alone casts into question the stance of the church on every social justice issue during its existence. Bloody Brigham Young fought for Utah to be a slave territory barely a decade before the civil war. Today’s leaders are viciously opposed to LGBTQ+ rights, keeping with this same trend of lethargy towards the often unpopular but moral stance on social issues. Granted, abolishing slavery and legal gay marriage are far from the same thing, but opposition to them comes from the same religiously bigoted place and Jo was no moral stalwart of his day in spite of the near deification his legacy enjoys in the church today. He was as slothful as any politician seeking popular approval; garnering support by playing into, instead of against, people’s basest fears and prejudices. Not only was Jo’s work ethic lazy, but his own morality was lazy. This single data point really highlights the way I opened this episode. A person operating from a moral compass given to them by divine decree will always be morally inferior to somebody who puts the work into shaping their own moral compass from consequential ethicism and other categories of philosophical morality. The cult leader and follower may be the most active and industrious person you meet, but at the end of the day their minds have atrophied from lack of use and critical examination of the world around them. Any way you examine Jo, from his moral ethics, to his business practices, to his general work ethic, he was the epitome of indolence.
I had to get that off my chest and I could spend the entire episode on just this but we must soldier forth. In spite of being pro-slavery when Jo fled Kirtland for Missouri, tensions eventually climaxed between the Mormons and anti-Mormon Missourians throughout the year of 1838.
One of the big things that kicked off the Missouri Mormon War was Sidney Rigdon’s militant preaching. Mormons always talk about the “extermination order” that the governor of Missouri issued, but actually it was Sidney Rigdon who first used the word “extermination” in Missouri. On the 4th of July in 1838, he gave a sermon which has become infamous in Mormon history. I called this the Red Sermon on Episode 43 because, in many ways, it was a catalyst for the impending Missouri-Mormon War.
And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.
Not only threatening people, but threatening their homes and families. Why didn’t the Missourians like the Mormons again? If Joe really had the insight of a prophet, he could have stood up after Rigdon’s sermon and said something to calm the crowd and correct what Rigdon had just said. Instead, Joe got up and endorsed Hingepin Rigdon’s message. His failure to rein Rigdon in was at best incompetent. When his people were on the precipice of civil war, he let his second-in-command take control of the church and influence his decisions which caused the Haun’s Mill Massacre and the suffering of thousands of Mormons during the expulsion from the state. He could have stepped in at any time. He could have denounced the more radical members of his leadership like the Wild Ram of the Mountains, Lyman Wight, or Captain Fearnaught David W. Patten, or Hingepin Sidney Rigdon. Instead Jo let his people spiral out of control through inaction and incompetence, but all of that is true only if we believe the apologist narrative of the Missouri-Mormon War. I, on the other hand, tend to believe Jo was among the radicals and fed into the fire and fury which caused that spiraling out of control which led to so much suffering.
On a similar note, there was a Mormon paramilitary organization called “the Danites” that bullied members into conformity, harassed elected officials and forced them to sign documents under duress, and even murdered dissenters of the faith. Joe later blamed the Danites on Sampson Avard and claimed that he himself had no idea of all the nasty things the Danites were up to. This, however, was only after Sampson Avard defected during the height of the Missouri-Mormon war and filed affidavits about the existence of the Danites which led to the Mormon extermination order by Governor Boggs. Well, I don’t buy Jo’s deflections and casting blame for a second. Eps 44, 45, 46
Even if we look at the massacre at Haun’s Mill itself, Jo’s incompetence and inaction, coupled with his fire and brimstone speeches throughout 1838, led to the deaths of 18 Mormons. There was a small Mormon community around a mill owned by a guy named Jacob Haun. The community was attacked by a group of rogue Missouri militia soldiers, and the soldiers massacred the Mormons, including women and children, and mutilated some of the bodies. In perhaps the worst moment of the massacre, as described by historian Stephen LeSueur, “the Missourians found ten-year-old Sardius Smith hiding under the [blacksmith’s] bellows. Young Smith, whose father lay mortally wounded on the floor, begged for his life, but William Reynolds of Livingston County put a gun to the boy’s head and blew off the top. ‘Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon,’ Reynolds reportedly said in justification of his act.” It was a heinous crime and a brutal human tragedy; it all happened because of Jo’s actions or lack thereof.
Simply put, this would have been a good time for Joseph to use his prophetic abilities to know the situation before it occurred. Joseph did warn the people of Haun’s Mill that they might be in danger, as they were the furthest Mormon settlement away from the twin city headquarters of Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahmen, but instead of calling for them to flee, he told them to use their own judgment and do whatever they thought best. Thus we see the failing of prophecy, prophets seem to know everything concerning god’s will and how to best fulfill it, but when it comes to useful knowledge, like how to save the lives of 18 of his parishioners, God simply forgot to mention it to Joseph, and Joe failed to do enough to take a stand, warn, and protect his followers. Episode 48-- but you better be emotionally prepared because it’s some graphic content.
After the Missouri-Mormon war and the leadership surrendered Eps 49, 50. The Mormons left the state of Missouri and sought refuge in Illinois. This move was largely organized by Uncle John Smith and the Quorum of Apostles under the direction of Bloody Brigham Young. Jo languished in prison for months while the mess he created was sorted out by his closest advisors. Eps 51, 52, 53
In order to build Nauvoo, Joe had had to become enterprising and amassed a lot of responsibility for himself, although none of his responsibilities involved intensive physical labor. Most of his time was devoted to riding around areas to scope out land to purchase and signing his name on contracts.
Jo incurred somewhere in the ballpark of $200k in personal debt signing all these contracts. That’s over $6 mn in 2020 money. He turned around and attempted to sell the land to the destitute refugee Mormons at exorbitant rates or simply gave away choice lots as gifts when people followed his commands. It takes a special kind of monster to force thousands of people into destitution by committing treason and then attempt to make profit off their misery.
However, because the Mormons were so destitute, once the bills started coming due Jo couldn’t even afford to pay the interest. Drastic measures were needed to settle the Mormon cash flow problem as it would be years before they could build the manufacturing infrastructure to benefit from their location on the Mississippi, the largest shipping river in America at the time. Instead of committing to hard work, balancing budgets, and sustainably building Nauvoo, Joe went to Washington, D.C. with hand extended for a government bailout. Now, I should say here that I am not opposed to reparations, and in fact I think the government’s failure to do something to help the Mormons here was a moral failure. My problem is more with the extremely one-sided picture that Joe painted of what happened in Missouri, and the enormous $1.2 million sum he asked for, including $100,000 for himself and another $100k for Hyrum. In total, he asked for over $41 mn in 2020 money from the federal government. The request for reparations was mostly designed to pay the enormous debts he had racked up speculating on real estate in Iowa and Illinois, and I’m sorry to say that if the federal government had actually paid the reparations, I’m not sure the actual victims of the Mormon War would seen very much of that enormous sum of money. There’s a good chance Joe would have arranged for most of this money to enrich himself and the Church. Episodes 58 and 61.
This wasn’t the last time that Joe cravenly exploited the suffering of his followers in Missouri in an attempt to get outside help. He also called upon the Green Mountain Boys militia of Vermont to join the Nauvoo Legion to both put down anti-Mormon violence in Illinois and also help him make Missouri pay for its persecution of the Mormons. Remember, Jo was dead to rights in Missouri. The state government had him on arson, robbery, high treason, and murder so he couldn’t step foot in the state without his own militia or he’d be arrested and hung. He thought that if he could just burn the whole state to the ground, he wouldn’t have to deal with the Missouri problem any more. The Nauvoo Legion wasn’t big enough yet to wage a war without sustaining heavy casualties, but he thought if the Green Mountain Boys agreed to join forces to raze the state, he’d lose a lot less of his own militia.
In his letter to the Green Mountain Boys, Joe pulls all the strings of emotional manipulation, and he’s blatantly dishonest about what happened in Missouri. He begins by telling them he’s a Vermonter himself, and a faithful American citizen. Then he launches into his tale of persecution in Missouri, including the blatant lie that “twelve or fifteen thousand innocent inhabitants [were] murdered, and hundreds expelled, the residue, at the point of the bayonet, without law, contrary to the express language of the Constitution of the United States, and every State in the Union; and contrary to the custom and usage of civilized nations; and especially one holding up the motto: ‘The asylum of the oppressed.’” I mean, okay. Hundreds expelled at the point of a bayonet, sure. But “twelve or fifteen thousand innocent inhabitants murdered?” The actual casualty count was about 21 people on the Mormon side and a small handful of Missourians.
I honestly wonder if this is an example of Joe’s “Yankee wit,” where he’d say something that’s technically true, but deliberately designed to be misunderstood; lying resides in the intent even if the statement may be true. For example, Joe’s New York neighbor, Peter Ingersoll, says that Joe once told a toll collector that he didn’t have money to pay the toll, so he’d hand him double on the way back. The toll collector agreed to this deal, and on the way back, Joe did hand him double. The toll collector didn’t recognize Joe, and he gave him half the amount as change. Afterward, Peter Ingersoll asked Joe, didn’t you promise to pay double on the way back? And Joe said, no, I promised to hand him double. This was technically true but the intent was to mislead; the intent was a lie.
Now apply the same logic to this letter to the Green Mountain Boys. Joe says twelve or fifteen thousand people were murdered in Missouri. It sounds like he’s saying that between 12,000 people and 15,000 people were murdered in Missouri. But you could also interpret this statement as saying that between 12 people and 15,000 people were murdered in Missouri. Joe loved these kinds of word games, so it would not at all surprise me if that was what went through his mind when he wrote this outrageous claim.
He goes on to the objective of the proposed expedition:
With all these facts before me, and a pure desire to ameliorate the condition of the poor and unfortunate among men, and, if possible, to entice all men from evil to good, and with firm reliance that God will reward the just, I have been stimulated to call upon my native State, for a "union of all honest men;" and to appeal to the valor of the "Green Mountain Boys" by all honorable methods & means to assist me in obtaining justice from Missouri: not only for the property she has stolen and confiscated, the murders she has committed among my friends, and for our expulsion from the State, but also to humble and chastise, or abase her for the disgrace she has brought upon constitutional liberty, until she atones for her sins.
Jo wanted revenge. This also played into his larger plans to unify freed slaves and oppressed Natives into his Nauvoo Legion to overthrow the United States Government and instate his Mormon theocracy. However, if he could get these Green Mountain Boys to start the fight for him and take the brunt of the opening casualties, that was obviously preferable to the American Muhammed.
He goes on to manipulate the Green Mountain Boys with a gish gallop of noble-sounding lies. He claims that his father served in several battles of the American Revolution (when he was five years old?) and had to watch his comrades in arms shot dead in Missouri. He claims his brother Don Carlos died of exposure and fatigue, when in fact he died because he was working in a dark and mildew-filled basement churning out propaganda as editor of the Times & Seasons, not because of anything he suffered during the exodus to Illinois. He claims his mother has permanent problems from the trauma, which is fair because all the Mormons had experienced the traumatic events resulting from Jo’s decisions, and he also claims his Missouri jailers tried to feed him human flesh, which there’s also no evidence of. But, the whole point of this letter is to weave a persecution narrative and we can’t let pesky facts get in the way of good propaganda. Facts weren’t in the cards because Jo was a parasite. He could only survive by attaching to others and sucking them dry like a leech. Episode 181.
An aspect of Jo’s character that bears examination is his dictatorial proclivities. Rarely did he write anything, instead he dictated it. Rarely did he fix problems himself, he delegated problems to be solved by others. He rarely wrote his own propaganda for the church, he had a team of propaganda specialists tasked with spewing constant twisted truths from the Nauvoo printer’s mill. He didn’t even write his own presidential campaign pamphlet, something he should have been the foremost expert on, he instead had it ghost-written by W.W. Phelps. If a task needed to be completed, Jo dictated it to somebody who considered him the prophet of god. Notably as well, when problems cropped up, he was far more likely to run away than confront. He was not only a coward, but a lazy coward. These are traits of a good CEO that deserves respect for what they build, but Jo didn’t build anything himself and therefore doesn’t deserve respect. The force of his will wasn’t “do this thing because it’s what the company needs,” Jo’s MO was “do this thing because god commands you to do it. You wouldn’t question the mind and will of the Lord on this, would you?” That isn’t respectable, it’s pathetic.
As a microcosm of these character traits, I offer the Nauvoo Expositor issue as a prime example. William Law formed his own church in the city of Nauvoo, called the leadership to repentance, called for reformation in the church, and then published the scathing expose known as the Nauvoo Expositor with 6 co-printers and an editor. Jo claimed the paper was full of slander and libel. The right thing to do would be to sue the printers and get an injunction against them printing more issues until the case was settled or a verdict was reached. However, suing the printers would require discovering the extent to which its claims were slanderous or actually true. Because the printers were very careful about what they published, Jo knew it was full of truths and he would lose the slander case. Truth is an absolute defense in slander cases and Jo wouldn’t survive an impartial hearing. His church would be tossed into chaos as the popular media ran stories about the hearings and statements from witnesses which proved polygamy was going on and that the Mormon empire was amassing too much political wealth, thereby infringing on the separation of church and state.
Instead of going through all the time and effort of these legal troubles and waging multiple campaigns of character assassination against the printers, Jo took the easy way out and ordered the press destroyed which led to his eventual arrest and vigilante execution. Episode 200. The Church the Expositor printers formed posed an existential threat to Jo’s church; in a jealous bid for power he instead took a scorched-earth approach to their dissent, audaciously thinking himself untouchable in such a criminal act. His gluttony for women was something he had to lie about and silence any threat of public exposure, which proved to be his ultimate downfall.
Indolent and work-shy for any task which couldn’t be delegated to a lackey, shiftless and inert in his own morals stating whatever was merely popular and would gain him followers and retweets, torpid when his people needed him the most as refugees sick and dying in the swampland on the banks of the Mississippi, loafing about and asking for government handouts instead of working to pay his debts and learn how to balance a budget, utterly apathetic to establish a hardline stance on basic issues of morality like whether or not it’s alright to own humans as property, careless and neglectful about the suffering of his followers and indifferent about the plight of those oppressed by a slave-holding society, privileged and resting on the laurels of a white-supremacist nation, he held absolute contempt for the rule of law by which society abides in lieu of simply doing whatever he wanted; Joseph Smith was a lazy man.
He built cities, wrote books, was editor of multiple newspapers, formed his own armies, ran hundreds of businesses throughout his life, seldom had any time to help raise his children because each day was occupied with founding a religion; he fought a war, started a university, wrote multiple books of scripture, was a father and husband and husband and husband and husband and husband and husband, fought dissenters; are these the attributes of a lazy man? YES! The entire premise of this episode has been that people can be physically industrious and busy every waking moment of every day but remain the laziest parasites of society. Simultaneously, a person who thinks about the world in which they live, deals with the hardest questions that face our shared human existence; what’s the purpose of life, what’s the most moral outcome of the given situation, how do I reduce suffering in the world, how does one person make the world a better place for the most people, the person who ponders these questions spending their life consuming information, never hammering a nail, milking a cow, plumbing a house, or doing any housework can be the most ambitious and energetic human alive. A Cult leader or follower are the most active lazy people around; a philosopher is the least active hard worker society can offer. The efforts of one contribute only to the maintenance and expansion of an exclusive group, the efforts of the other contribute to the betterment of humanity.
A cult leader like Joseph Smith thrives on lies being accepted without critical examination, spread through intellectual contagion to those without an intellectual immune system equipped to evaluate those lies. A skeptic, a critical thinker, a scientist, a philosopher, this person thrives on gathering more information and never ceasing that quest. A cult leader’s job is complete when a person gives their life to the cult, a philosopher’s job is complete when they realize their job is never complete. When the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done. When a scientist speaks, the thinking is perpetuated. When the cult leader is wrong about something, the adversary’s grasp on the world is more realized; when a philosopher is wrong about something, they realize the issue is more complex than they initially thought and their thoughts grow and adapt to understand that information in a broader context. For the cult leader, the world is always what they know; for the scientist, the world is comprised of unknown unknowns. The cult leader is moved by arrogance and limited information, the philosopher by humility and expanding information. One can only exist by virtue of people’s intellectual idleness, the other’s existence is solely devoted to tirelessly ridding people of their intellectual idleness.
From treasure digging to petitioning the government for a bailout, Jo’s entire life was marked by the easiest path. He walked the trail blazed by cult leaders for millennia before him and once he was believed to be a prophet of god he lived a life of luxury from the sacrifices of his devotees.
There are always more stories from early Mormonism to learn from, but 30 pages of script for today is enough. I’m exhausted. I’mma go take a nap.
Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 07/16/2020"